Image Credit: “Mystery Kahlua” by andydr
Player safety and enjoyment of the sport are two of the top goals of US Lacrosse, and both have been written about on the blog before. Education writer Brooke Bennett’s post today casts some doubt on whether university teams will be able to live up to these ideals in the face of hazing, which is gaining traction within collegiate sports organizations the nation over. Most of Brooke’s work appears on http://www.AccreditedOnlineColleges.org, a web magazine covering the college experience from a variety of angles.
Persistent and Worrisome Rise in Hazing Seen on College Campuses
The American “college experience” is largely about rites of passage: moving away from home, becoming independent, and taking on more responsibility, for starters. Hazing has often been a part of this, though its harmless, prank-oriented roots are increasingly being abandoned in favor of much harsher—and sometimes even deadly—undertakings. Despite increased media attention, many universities have done little to truly stop these sorts of practices. Some corrective action can and should come from the students themselves, but until the institutions are willing to more forcefully intervene, the tragedies show no clear sign of stopping.
Fraternities and sororities are usually the most common offenders, but marching bands and competitive sports teams—lacrosse included—have been known to engage in these sorts of activities, too. The main idea behind hazing is to humiliate new, usually freshman, members. When done right, the experience can be one of lighthearted teasing and, ultimately, welcoming. Problems come when the humiliation turns violent or truly harmful.
Reports are rampant of new pledges and players being fed dog food; being pressured to drink to the point of oblivion; or being required to walk across hot coals. Others are forced to submit to sexual humiliation or violation, usually in front of their peers. New members often endure multiple sleepless nights, and essentially live in fear of what their tormentors will do next. Binghamton University, one of the Northeast’s best ranked public schools, has recently been profiled for the outrageous and extremely dangerous feats forced upon Greek pledges. “My entire tenure from start to finish, I was scared to death that someone was going to die,” Sunni Solomon, the university’s Director of Greek Life from 2010-2012, told The New York Times.
No one has died—yet—from hazing at Binghamton. Other schools have not been so lucky. Florida A&M and Cornell have both reported student deaths related to tortuous hazing over the past year. Robert Champion, an inductee into Florida’s renowned marching band, was found dead after “routine band hazing” in 2011. The specifics of his death remain somewhat unclear, but many have acknowledged that it was the result of alcohol and violence-based hazing. The university temporarily suspended the marching band’s activities pending the investigation, but took no other corrective action.
At Cornell, sophomore George Desdunes was found dead in his fraternity house after being “kidnapped” by his brothers, blindfolded and bound, and made to drink upwards of 20 shots of vodka. When he became unconscious, the brothers dumped him in a common area rather than provide him with the medical care he needed. The university launched a formal investigation and interviewed many Panhellenic members to get to the root of what happened and, importantly, why. The school received a lot of criticism for not doing more, though. “Many people, including the lawyers for the accused, believe that Cornell officials should have foreseen problems but looked the other way because the Greek system is so popular,” The New York Times said of the incident.
Hazing, even when truly appalling and dangerous, is usually limited to small sectors of campus life. Exclusive groups are usually the only ones to engage in this sort of behavior; by their nature, these groups are often small, insular, and frequently secretive. Until something truly tragic happens, it is often difficult for universities to really understand the true extent of what is going on.
Students often do not even see the full picture unless they are in the thick of it. When they are, the social pressures are often so intense that they simply submit—often without question or second thought. In such insular communities, it is easy to see how the tormented can so easily become the tormentors as years go by, creating something of a never-ending cycle of abuse. Students who want badly to be a part of a team, a club, or an organization are often willing to put up with a lot to “make the cut”—and if everyone else is along, it can be all the easier to rationalize. “Even when an individual who has been hazed wishes to not perpetuate the practices, he or she may do so out of fear of disapproval or retaliation by the group,” a Cornell report surmised. “Groups may exert considerable pressure on dissatisfied members in order to maintain secrecy about their hazing practices.”
Some scholars believe that this group approach to violence and abuse could lead to more systemic problems in youth culture. College students are often treated as adults, but most are still teenagers when hazing begins. Though not much research has been done on the topic, those who have been brutally hazed may be more willing to tolerate—or even condone—similar abuses outside of such insular group settings.
Hazing is a complex problem at many schools, and can be difficult to undo. Empowering students to speak up and care for each other is certainly part of the equation. Universities must also be more aware, though; they must do more to reach out to their students to ensure that all sanctioned activities, academic or not, are both safe and healthy. While there is something to be said for letting students make their own choices, when it comes to hazing, it seems pretty clear that things have gotten out of hand.